There's a monumental shift happening in the IT services space at the moment and it's commanding huge change for IT service providers. Now, more than ever, channel partners must work harder and smarter to deliver exceptional customer experience and a clearly differentiated value proposition.
With competition coming from nearly every angle, including vendors, copier dealers, master MSPs and large services organisations, it is time to assess what's important and how to build on unique selling points and expertise when it comes to customer service and support.
To improve the customer experience, especially for SMBs, managed services providers (MSPs) are moving away from standard service-level agreements (SLAs) and offerings, instead building customised programmes.
This is difficult for larger and more established competitors to deliver. It's also what makes an MSP stand out in a crowded market.
Having flexibility across services, forging meaningful relationships with business owners, and being able to tailor programmes to meet specific client needs is what will separate the good from the great.
There are some key points to consider.
If an SMB customer just wants its servers and desktops monitored, but not mobile devices, having a flexible business model will allow the MSP to make it happen. Or the client might want the MSP to handle patch management but not anti-virus monitoring.
It may not be optimal, but having flexibility enables MSPs to meet client requirements on their terms, prove their value, and provide a competitive advantage that other competitors might not be able to deliver. It is one way to get your foot in the door and build from there.
Be strategic. Today's MSP elite have taken their practices well beyond serving as trusted advisers and virtual CIOs who help their clients think about business strategy. They don't want to simply fix current IT challenges, but provide clients with ideas that can play out further into the future and set them up for longer-term success.
Automating more business processes for clients, for example, can go a long way towards helping them get more done with fewer in-house staff.
Big businesses now entering the channel to compete have a lot of money to spend on marketing. But what they likely don't have is established relationships with local businesses – the ones in your back yard.
The onus is on you to stay in front of your customers at every opportunity: attend regional business association meetings, join partner organisations and participate in community events. Be where your customers are and make a personal connection with them so they'll remember you when their IT service needs are ready for refreshment.
Be personable; one thing hasn't changed in business and that is the importance of relationships. If you're an MSP, being able to look your customer in the eye, shake his or her hand and get to know him or her can only lay the foundations for a stronger relationship – as well as encouraging you to serve that customer in the best possible way.
These strategies are simple and proven. In an increasingly competitive IT channel, the way to add value is by customising your client relationships.
Don't be intimidated by competition from larger firms; get in front of your customers and prospects regularly and remind them you want to build a trusting, long-term business partnership based on a deep understanding of their business. Show them you've got what it takes to help them succeed.
Mike Cullen is vice president of worldwide MSP sales and business strategy at N-able by SolarWinds
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